Just one more meeting
I have seen people write about the cost of meetings many times before. The time spent by all participants quickly adds up to a lot of money. If we add in the time to prepare the meeting the cost is even higher. This is not what this post is about. Here I want to dig into the other cost of meetings: the marginal cost on your productivity of adding just one more meeting.
For this post, I’m primarily talking about a specific subset of all meetings, the ones where we don’t get any real work done. I’m talking about status updates, discussions of things that should be done, information meetings, meetings that could have been an email, and other similar kinds of meetings.
So, imagine an empty schedule, you have 40 hours to do stuff. Let’s add a meeting! One hour every week. No big deal, we have only removed 2.5% of the available time, you’ll hardly notice any difference in productivity.
But most managers don’t have an empty schedule. Let’s say we have already booked up 20 hours with meetings. Now when we add another one-hour meeting we’re not only using 2.5% of the available time, we’re in fact using twice that, five percent. Okay, five percent, not great, but not terrible either.
Unfortunately, it gets worse. Those 20 hours are not going to be back to back, you probably need a few breaks between them. And for many meetings, you’ll need some time to prepare. Then there’s the cost of task switching as well. I think it’s safe to assume every hour of meeting effectively uses 1:30 of your time.
So with 20 hours of meetings using up 30 hours of your time, the available time is 10 hours. The cost of adding another hour of meetings (that will use 1:30 of your time) is now a reduction of your available time by 15%. That’s a lot. And if your additional meeting is with other busy people you are reducing their available time significantly as well.
No wonder it can feel like there’s no time to do all the things we talk about in meetings.
But there is a flip side. Removing just one meeting from a busy calendar will free up time just as effectively as adding one will remove it.
So if you ever feel like you have no time to work, start looking in your calendar and practice saying “No” to a few things. And remember, “no agenda, no attenda”.
As a leader, I favor transparency and collaboration, often involving my teammates in figuring out the best way forward. It’s important for me to build trust and to work long term. I want to build bridges and increase collaboration between teams.